What Only Hardcore HGTV Fans Know About Fixer Upper

When "Fixer Upper" launched on HGTV in 2013, it was an immediate hit. According to The Hollywood Reporter, the show's ratings were almost double in the second season; and by 2016, the Season 3 finale boasted close to 4 million live viewers. The total ratings that year topped 25 million, including all airings. It's the most-watched series in HGTV history.

Here's the premise: hosts Chip and Joanna Gaines, a married couple in Waco, Texas, help home buyers find and renovate a home. Chip is the lead contractor, while Joanna is the designer. From purchase price to completing a renovation, the projects are typically under $500,000. But the value keeps growing. For example, according to Today, a one-bedroom, one-bath home called "the Shotgun House," featured in Season 3, was on the market in 2017 for $950,000. The same owners now rent it for $311 a night on Airbnb.

The "Fixer Upper" formula is still working. With five seasons and a reboot underway, the show's impact is still being felt. Still, the couple and the show continue to generate headlines. Here is what only hardcore HGTV fans know about the show.

The TV show has caused tension in Waco

"Fixer Upper" has been a boost to Waco, Texas, where it's filmed. It's known for its silos and small-town vibes. In 2013 — the year "Fixer Upper" started — tourism to Waco was 564,205, per the Waco Convention & Visitors Bureau. By 2019, it had over 2.4 million visitors. Then the pandemic happened. Still, visitors to Waco topped 1.7 million in 2021, and visitor spending generated $360.6 million for the local economy.

The Gaines and their company, Magnolia, have not only renovated homes in the area but also started businesses there, including their Magnolia Market, a shopping center. But the show has also been a strain on locals. Residents in McLennan County, home to Waco, are seeing an average 30% increase in their property taxes (via KWTX).

According to The Houston Chronicle, many residents face increasing rents or eviction. The newspaper says there's now an increased need for lodging for visitors to Waco. Properties in the downtown area, which a few years ago used to be $18 a square foot, are selling for $300 per square foot. Comparatively, that's double the median price per foot in the whole state of Texas.

The selection process may not be what it seems

One of the hallmarks of the show is that Chip and Joanna show the prospective home buyer three homes at the beginning of the episode. But one participant from Season 3 says that's not true. David Ridley told Fox News that he had already purchased his house as a requirement to be on the show. "You have to be under contract to be on the show. They show you other homes, but you already have one," Ridley told the news outlet. "After they select you, they send your house to Chip and Joanna and their design team."

Good Housekeeping reports that for their new show, "Fixer Upper: Welcome Home," the Gaines and their team require applicants already to own a home in Waco or the surrounding area, to have at least $50,000 for the renovation funds, and be willing to give all creative control to the show's construction and design crew.

Magnolia and the Gaines faced lead paint violations

The Gaines got into trouble in 2017 after the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) reviewed video footage of older homes being renovated on the TV show and found they didn't follow lead safety protocol. The EPA "found evidence of noncompliance" in 33 rennovation properties renovated by the Gaines' business, Magnolia Waco Properties, LLC, doing business as Magnolia Homes.

The EPA and Magnolia settled the "alleged violations" in 2018. Magnolia paid a $40,000 fine and agreed to educate its viewers and the public about lead-based paint hazards and proper renovation actions regarding lead paint. The Gaines also ensured lead paint compliance in future renovations and said they'd spend $160,000 to fix lead paint hazards at high-risk homes in Waco, where they do business, and the TV show is filmed. Magnolia also got EPA certified and trained about lead paint and renovations.

Lead exposure is dangerous for everyone, especially children who have developing nervous symptoms. The CDC says high lead levels may cause significant health issues, including brain damage and weakness.

Homeowners on 'Fixer Upper' say the neighborhood isn't safe

Season 3 homebuyers Ken and Kelly Downs thought the Waco neighborhood they moved into was safe. But after a suspected drunk driver crashed into their home, they were frustrated. The couple, who was sleeping in their primary bedroom at the time of the accident, was featured in the episode "Three Little Pigs."

"It's like the Wild West here. There's been a lot of commotion coming from the bars and the store across the street," Kelly told the Waco Tribune-Herald. "It's been a problem from the beginning. We've lived here a year and a half and we feel deceived by the city of Waco and Magnolia Realty."

But another couple whose home was featured on "Fixer Upper" is defending the Gaines and the Waco area. Jill Barrett (who has known Chip since college) and her husband Joshua had their home renovation featured during Season 2. They believe people should do a little more research into the town before agreeing to move there, as it's not a fancy gated suburb, and it's not advertised as one. Instead, it's a small town.

"When you look out your front door and you see three bars and a sign that says 'Live Bait' and you look at your neighbors' houses and they're just not the same quality of home that you're buying or you're renovating I think caveat emptor; I think it's buyer beware," Joshua Barrett told Fox News. "I'm a little disappointed in that. I think it's not fair."

Chip Gaines was sued by his former Magnolia business partners

In 2017, two of Gaines' former business partners sued him for $1 million, alleging fraud, as per KWTX. Partners with Gaines since 2007, John L. Lewis and Richard L. Clark, both lawyers, alleged the contractor bought out their partnership for $2,500 each and didn't tell them that HGTV decided to air "Fixer Upper" nationally.

According to the Dallas Morning News, the lawsuit stated that the Gaines decided to buy out their partners when they learned "Fixer Upper" was slated for a one-hour premiere on HGTV. This would launch their business into a whole new financial tier, and Lewis and Clark alleged that the couple did not want to share the profits from such a business move, so they edged them out. 

At the time of the lawsuit, Jordan Mayfield, Gaines' attorney, said, " ...it is disappointing to see people try to take advantage of the hard work and success of Chip and Joanna Gaines." (via USA Today). A judge threw out the lawsuit in 2020.

The show's style is a steal

"Fixer Upper" inspired homeowners to embrace the "farmhouse chic" trend, but some people took the idea too far. According to the Courier-Journal, thieves wanted Chip and Joanna's signature style so much that in 2019 there was a rise in theft of weathered or distressed barn wood. The problem was particularly bad in Kentucky, the state with the most barns. It's also been a problem in other farm states, including Iowa, Ohio, South Carolina, Indiana, and more.

The Courier-Journal in Louisville, Kentucky, reported some barns had so much wood stolen that all that was left were the barns' frames and roofs. One resident told the newspaper part of her barn had already been stripped, and she had a pistol ready if thieves came back to steal again. "Well, sure, I'd fire at 'em," said Lois "Nan" Coffey. "I'd love to get it out."

Another way to potentially stop the theft? Reclaimed wood buyers are now asking for W-9 tax forms from sellers, hoping to add legitimacy to the transaction and deter thieves. Sheriffs in the bluegrass state tracked the theft, but there wasn't much they could do unless the thieves were caught in the act.

Scammers sold a Joanna Gaines skin cream that wasn't hers

Joanna Gaines is known for many things, including her beauty. Many people want to know her skincare secrets, but she had to clear up the rumors that she had a skincare line and was leaving the show. In 2017, she posted about the scam on her Instagram, writing, "There have been rumors floating around about me leaving the show to start a skincare/makeup line. I wanted to take a minute to let y'all know that it's simply not true. This is a SCAM! We have nothing to do with it and have been trying to stop it for some time."

She then encouraged her followers to share the post and report fake ads about the product to her. She also used the hashtag #seasonfiveiscoming, which put to rest the rumor that she was leaving the show. Back to skincare, Today noted many comments on the post indicate Gaines' followers are ready to buy a face cream if the designer ever decides to launch beauty products.

Deposition drama

The Gaines launched their furniture company, Magnolia Home, in 2016. The Houston Chronicle reported an Alabama company, Standard Furniture, would manufacture the furniture. But soon, there was a problem. According to Woodworking Network, Standard Furniture and its corporate affiliate, International Furniture Marketing, Inc. (IFM), sued its Chinse supplier, LF Products, alleging the supplier used water buffalo hide on chairs and sofas instead of the "top grain leather" it initially promised. The furniture shipment was valued at $650,000.

While Joanna Gaines wasn't named in the lawsuit as a plaintiff or a defendant, she was called for a deposition since the furniture was for her company and since she discovered the discrepancy. According to the legal complaint, "This 'bait and switch' was discovered in an embarrassing and damaging manner for Standard and IFM when their licensing partner Joanna Gaines was shipped and opened a box containing the defective furniture. It was immediately apparent to Ms. Gaines that the product was substandard and unsaleable."

Gaines didn't want any part of the lawsuit and insisted she be paid for her time to give a deposition. Her hourly rate was $150,000, but a judge said no way to that high fee. Still, her testimony wasn't needed after all since the furniture companies decided to drop their claims against each other.

Dispelling rumors about their last season

When Chip and Joanna announced in 2017 that Season 5 of "Fixer Upper" would be their last, they said on their blog that they just needed "to catch our breath for a moment." But according to Page Six, the real reason for the departure from HGTV might be that the TV network is too restrictive. The article reported Chip and Joanna were hoping to land better deals when Discovery Communications bought out HGTV's parent company Scripps.

An HGTV spokesperson released a statement, saying, "Of course, this inflammatory information is inaccurate. Chip and Joanna have already shared with their fans why they made their decision and we support them."

Another report from Us Weekly claimed security issues were a concern for the couple and their family. But Entertainment Tonight debunked that claim, too. Fans were sad that the popular show was ending, and Chip and Joanna had this message on their blog: "Though our 'Fixer Upper' chapter is coming to a close, we aren't done with Waco. We aren't done renovating homes. We aren't done designing things to make your home your favorite place on earth. We aren't done working towards restoration in all things or helping out those who could use a hand. In fact, in all of these things, we are just getting started."

Defending their controversial product line

In 2017, Chip and Joanna Gaines launched a new product line with retailer Target. The "Hearth & Hand with Magnolia" line has a functional, "modern farmhouse" vibe. But HuffPost says the product line upset the couple's conservative base, who are upset that Target supports LGBTQ issues, including allowing customers and employees to use restrooms based on gender identity.

The Gaines defended the partnership, explaining on their website that working with Target was a wonderful experience. "With our friends, our family, and with the people we do business with, we are serious about continually finding common ground. We are thankful to get to work side by side with the people at Target. We believe we are going to build something really beautiful together and that our positive impact will be far greater now than it would ever be apart." Despite the controversy, the brand remains a popular staple at the big box retailer. 

The LGBTQ controversy

Chip and Joanna Gaines are proud of their Christian faith. But back in 2017, there was controversy when a Buzzfeed article detailed how their pastor, Jimmy Seibert of Antioch Community Church, who says he's good friends with Chip and Joanna Gaines, doesn't support same-sex marriage.

According to Cosmopolitan, Chip Gaines posted his thoughts on the couples' website, where he wrote: "Joanna and I have personal convictions. One of them is this: we care about you for the simple fact that you are a person, our neighbor on planet earth. It's not about what color your skin is, how much money you have in the bank, your political affiliation, sexual orientation, gender, nationality or faith. That's all fascinating, but it cannot add or take away from the reality that we're already pulling for you."

While Gaines' comments didn't directly mention his church, pastor, or thoughts on same-sex marriage, "Fixer Upper" didn't have a same-sex couple on the show. In a statement to Buzzfeed, HGTV said, "We don't discriminate against members of the LGBT community in any of our shows. HGTV is proud to have a crystal clear, consistent record of including people from all walks of life in its series."